The Ohio State Buckeyes have been an impressive bunch to start off the 2010-11 college basketball season, and that may be an understatement.
The Buckeyes are currently 13-0, and have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. They'll need it, as they leave the friendly confines of a relatively easy non-conference schedule, and enter into the bees nest known as Big Ten basketball.
The Big Ten currently has six team ranked in the ESPN/USA Today poll (five in the AP), with another team in the honorable mention category. The worst overall record for a Big Ten team currently sits at 7-6 (Iowa), while seven of the eleven teams have three losses or less.
Every team has a winning record. While this will change thanks to inter-league play starting this week, it is interesting to note how even the conference seems to be this year.
Entering tonight's game against Indiana, the Buckeyes seem locked and loaded to make a serious run at a national title. With such a tough conference schedule this year, there is still a question of whether or not the Bucks will win the conference, let alone make it through the national championship tournament next March and April. There is some evidence that Ohio State will indeed be the team to beat as the year progresses.
The biggest news this season is the Buckeyes' big man, 6-foot-10 freshman phenom Jared Sullinger. He's been dominant at times, but this is by no stretch his team, and his team alone.
While the Evan Turner-led Buckeyes of 2009-10 were good, they often stood around as a team, while Turner worked as a one-man offensive show. This team is built much, much differently, even with four of last season's five starters returning. This new version of Thad Matta's team plays with much more symmetry on both sides of the ball.
How balanced have the Buckeyes been offensively? Five different Buckeyes have led the team in scoring during this early part of the season.
Freshman DeShaun Thomas and seniors David Lighty and John Diebler have all led the Buckeyes on three separate occasions each, while Sullinger has led the team four times (Lighty and Sullinger both had 26 to lead the Buckeyes against Florida). Junior William Buford led the team in their most recent contest against Tennessee-Martin.
Overall, Sullinger leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.5 points a game (seventh in the Big Ten), and making 59 percent of his shots. He also leads the team in rebounding, with 10.2 a game (tied for 19th in the country, and first in the Big Ten).
He is a dominant player, but he certainly isn't a finished product. While he's a scrapper, he never really disappears in a game because of his offensive presence and his motor. He doesn't have an ego that takes away from the other players.
Lighty really has turned into a leader on this team because of his defense, and an offensive game that seems to be of the "fill-in" mentality. When Sullinger is struggling, almost without fail, you'll find Lighty filling in the gaps.
He's averaging 12.9 points a game, 4.1 rebounds a game, and nearly two steals a game, which is second on the team. He also is third on the team with 3.7 assists a game. He's often guarding the best perimeter player when the Bucks are playing man-to-man, and acts as any fifth-year senior should.
Buford is a similar sort of player as Lighty, although he handles the ball offensively a bit more than Lighty, and is slightly less of a defender. Buford averages 13.3 a game, with 4.7 boards and 3.9 assists. He does lead the team in turnovers, but he does spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands.
Diebler has the ability to take over a game with his outside shooting. Diebler's averaging 12.2 a game, but is shooting 51 percent from the field, and 48 percent from beyond the arc, which far and away leads the team (Lighty is second, with a 43 percent average from beyond the arc).
Thomas is one of the first players off the bench, and really is the second-best scorer on the team. He averages 11.7 points per game, but does it in 10 less minutes than all the starters. He's also second on the team in rebounding at 5.4.
Again, take into account that he's doing it in only 18 minutes a game, while the starters are seeing nearly 30 minutes a game, and you can see just how important Thomas is to this team. Thomas is NOT a distributor by any stretch, but he's not brought into the game to be the assist leader.
That job is left to Aaron Craft, the only true point guard on the team. Craft was the player that was on everyone's "Mr. Underrated" list at the beginning of the year. Craft is the true sixth man, and is seeing just over 26 minutes a game.
You'll hear a lot about how smart Craft is with the ball, and that he was the Valedictorian of his class. You can see it when he plays. He rarely takes a bad shot, and is third on the team with an impressive 53 percent field goal percentage.
He doesn't fire at will from the outside, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc, but he averages less than two 3-pointers taken a game. He's averaging 4.8 assists a game, which leads the team.
Dallas Lauderdale is the Buckeyes' main defensive inside presence. He does nothing offensively, but a long reach makes him an huge presence on the inside. He leads the Big Ten and the team in blocks, with 2.46 a game (19th in the country), in only 21 minutes a game. He also leads the team and the Big 10 in shooting percentage at .647.
Overall, the Buckeyes can score, averaging 82.6 points per game, which is 12th in the country. They're eighth in the country in field goal percentage, coming in at 50 percent as a team. They distribute the ball well, averaging 18.5 assists a game, which is tied for fifth in the country.
They average just over nine steals a game, which is in the top 30 in the country. They protect the ball extremely well, averaging only 10.5 turnovers a game, which is fourth in the country. They do a lot well, and do it as a team.
Still, this team isn't deep, going only seven deep with any regularity, and will need to get some more minutes to Jordan Sibert, to get that eighth man involved. They aren't a tall team, so they can be had on the glass, which can get them into trouble at times.
They do hustle for the ball better than any Buckeye team in recent memory, and this does compensate for their lack of height. They can foul too much, which I worry about against better teams. Still, they play a team game, and that should carry them through the season.
The Buckeyes head to Bloomington, to face off against the 9-5 Hoosiers. While Indiana isn't the team it once was with Bobby Knight at the helm, it still shouldn't be scoffed at. The Buckeyes have a bullseye on their back, and there's nothing Indiana would rather do than knock the Bucks off in their first Big Ten game.
Indiana is struggling, having already been dumped by Penn State at home, and has three straight losses. Ohio State blew out the Hoosiers in both games last year, and has won four straight. Mr. Stoops...er Crean (Tom Crean, the head coach at Indiana, is Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops' brother-in-law) will definitely have his hands full.
For a full preview on the game, take a look at a couple of the best Ohio State blogs out there:
OSU-Indiana preview at Eleven Warriors
OSU-Indiana preview at The Buckeye Battle Cry
Look for the Buckeyes to roll over an overmatched Indiana tonight, and springboard into the Big Ten tilts with a bunch of momentum.